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Roads to Recovery: Transcript from NARTH Conference
Author / Contributor :: Cohen, Richard - Goldberg, Arthur - Medinger, Alan - NARTH - People Can Change - Wyler, Rich -

NARTH Conference November 18, 2001

JONAH LogoArthur Goldberg, Chairman: I designed this morning's panel to build upon what some of you heard yesterday from Ben Newman concerning the process of recovery. This panel is called "Roads to Recovery." I asked the four individuals to serve as a panel and to speak about their road to recovery because each of them have experienced healing from same-sex attraction, and in turn, now help others heal. This panel will thus discuss alternative roads to recovery. Indeed, although the fundamental issue involves a gender deficit, the root causes and constellation of factors in each person differ. The underlying principles of reparative or gender affirmative therapy are critical but the emphasis may differ, one focusing more on cognitive elements, another on experiential, a third on emotive issues, etc. Therefore, there are different roads which can be taken in order to heal underlying emotional wounds, repair issues of sexual brokenness, and complete the journey to human wholeness. Introduction of panel: Richard Cohen, Alan Medinger, Martin Pressman, Ben Newman.

Arthur Goldberg: How has each of you healed, and more importantly, have the techniques that you now use to help others heal changed from the techniques utilized in your own healing process?

Richard Cohen: There were basically three things that helped me change: understanding, faith and love. First was understanding the causes of my same-sex attractions. as Ben Newman said in his story yesterday, it was such a relief to read Joe Nicolosi's book, and other books, that illuminated why I had unwanted homosexual desires. The second was faith. It wasn't so much my faith in God. It was experiencing God's faith in me. I had a tremendous amount of self-loathing because of these feelings and all the socio-cultural taboos that went along with it. I came to realize that God loved me and forgave me for all the things I had done. I came to realize that God loved me regardless of my having same-sex attractions or not. This transformed my heart and began to create in me a feeling of self-worth. The third was love. Love from the men and women who stood with me through the many dark nights of my life. They held me, put their arms around me, and showed me a truer love than I had ever experienced. These three things – understanding, faith, and love – helped me heal out of homosexuality.

Alan Medinger: My initial healing was quite unusual because it was sudden and entirely spiritual. Twenty-seven years ago, at the point of religious conversion, I found absolute freedom from the sexual part of my homosexuality. I had been active homosexually for seventeen years, but being married, I was leading a double life. The ingredients in my healing are present in anyone's healing; only in my case, I was “zapped.”

In those days there were no ministries to help people like me, so maybe God said, "Let's take the most hopeless case in the world and start with him." Much later I was able to more fully understand what had happened to me - the ingredients of my healing. First, I was set free to love, and fell in love with my wife quite suddenly. This was a central part of my healing. Out of that love came my sexual desire for her. Then second, God somehow desexualized my needs. The psychological and emotional needs were still there, such as a deep unmet need for a man's love, but they were no longer manifesting themselves sexually. The third area, I didn't even know was a problem. This had to do with my lack of maturity as a man. I was thirty-eight years old when I came out of homosexuality, but in the development of my manhood, I was more like an eight-year-old. That part of my healing has taken twenty-some years, and I wrote a book about it. (Growth Into Manhood) I think these three areas of change or healing are needed in everybody. A person needs to somehow overcome the narcissism that is so often a part of homosexuality; to be able to love someone who is not like himself. He needs to learn to meet basic needs in a non-erotic way. And the man or woman needs to grow up. We try to help people in all three areas. A person's healing may come primarily through spiritual means, through psychological, or through both. Most of the time it will be both, with the greater power coming from the spiritual.

Martin Pressman: I'm forty-six years old and for as long as I can remember, I hated myself. And it wasn't until I started reparative therapy that I learned the reason why I didn't like myself - because I didn't feel like a man. I've been doing reparative therapy with an associate of Dr. Nicolosi's, David Matheson, for three years. I feel happy, I feel free, and most importantly, I feel powerful, and the reason is because I stepped into my manhood. A critical ingredient for what healed me is New Warriors. Doing the New Warrior weekend was the beginning of my healing journey. I entered the world of men for the first time. I was affirmed by other men, whereas when I was a boy I was made fun of by other boys, such as for the way I ran. I started doing the things that men do. I did the eight-week integration group that comes after the New Warrior weekend. Also, I had a mentor. I went to a park and I learned how to hit a baseball. And I can hit a baseball! My mentor was a high school pitcher and he was amazed at how far I can hit a baseball. For the first time in my life, a man showed me how to stand in the batter's box and what to do. I'm a baseball fan. I'm a big Yankee fan. I've watched hours of baseball games. But I never really paid attention to why guys stood in the batter's box differently. Now I understand about the mechanics of the game. So healing, for me, has really been about developing my sense of manhood.

Arthur Goldberg: I'd like to supplement something Martin said. In the JONAH support group that Martin is helping to coordinate, one of our strugglers said to me after our basketball game a few weeks ago, "You know, I sometimes watch sporting events on television. Looking at the people playing, I always felt I was on the outside looking in. Now, having actually played the game of basketball, and people really passing the ball to me, made me feel I'm part of the game; now I feel I'm inside that television box. Now I'm forming my masculinity by being on the inside, rather than trying to bring someone else's manhood into me through sexualized envy. The sweat that I've worked up playing basketball is better than an orgasm!"

Ben Newman: When I finally put healing first, and keeping the secret second, and switched those two priorities, it made change possible for the first time. Learning that my task was to fulfill the true yearnings of my heart for brotherly love and connection instead of to suppress lust was a tremendous insight; it enabled me to work a program of recovery in a whole new way. I had been a certified sex addict. I had thought the only way I could be with men in a loving, accepting way was through sex. Overcoming my faulty belief system about men and my impressions of men was also enormously powerful. All these things led to where I came to see men in a completely different way, as potential friends and brothers with whom I had a lot in common. However, for a time, dealing with buried emotions actually created an intensified desire to act out. But I learned that what I was after, at its core, was two things - meaningful connection with men and a positive sense of my own masculinity.

Arthur Goldberg: Each of you pretty much explained your own healing process, but what differences, if any, do you find in helping others heal and how has the process of helping others continued to help you?

Ben Newman: The twelfth step in the Twelve Step program is to take the healing you've gained and take it to others, so that activates a continuous healing process which focuses on others instead of self, which I also find in the words of Jesus when he said, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." So my own healing is now focused more on others rather than on myself. I interviewed a dozen men for the People Can Change web site and looked for the commonalities. There were amazing similarities in all of their stories. I almost become more surprised when there are significant differences. On the web site, I outlined the common elements that led them to change. They are essentially:

  • Accepting ourselves just as we are: coming out of shame. That's the first important step. The gay activists claim that the only way to do this is through embracing homosexuality and gay pride, but I find that coming out of shame is just as important, probably more important, for the man who wants to leave homosexuality.
  • Second, turning our lives and our will over to God. Almost everyone I interviewed found they had to surrender their base desires to a Higher Power, or at least a higher purpose, in order to have the motivation and ability to change.
  • Third, finding brotherly love and masculine affirmation with heterosexual men.
  • Fourth, resolving underlying problems and facing and healing buried pain.
  • Fifth, surrendering obsessions, envy and lust.
  • Sixth, fully embracing heterosexual masculinity and a whole new identity. A personal frustration for me as I work with other men is their frequent passivity. I find it surprising because I was so starved for information about whether change was possible and how to do it, and once I found it, I started making dramatic changes. I find the victim mentality or helplessness of some of these guys to be frustrating. I want to just shake them and say, Look, here's all this information. Here are all these resources. Here are all these books. And oftentimes they say, “Well, it looks like a lot of work. If there were a magic pill I'd take it, but I'm not really sure I want to change that much if it's going to be hard work.”

Richard Cohen: - As a psychotherapist, I have worked with hundreds desiring to heal out of homosexuality. One of my frustrations when I was seeking help was that no one had a clear plan to show me the path of healing. And the same was true for my clients. Eventually, I put together a four-stage model of recovery which is explained in Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality (Oakhill Press, 2000). Homosexuality is a developmental disorder due to a variety of causes. I classify it as a Same-Sex Attachment Disorder (SSAD), men seeking their masculinity in the arms of other men, and women seeking their femininity in the arms of other women. Having a clear model of recovery gives men and women a sense of purpose and direction, knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel. Stage One is behavioral therapy: cutting off from sexual activity, building a support network and building a sense of self-worth in relationship with God. Stage Two is cognitive therapy: slaying negative self-talk, developing communication skills and beginning inner child healing. Stage Three is psychodynamic therapy: healing the causes of homo-emotional wounds and developing healthy same-sex relationships. Stage Four is psychodynamic therapy: healing the causes of hetero-emotional wounds and developing healthy opposite-sex relationships. It is essential to develop healthy, normative relations with members of the same gender before one can be successful in opposite sex relationships. Having a clear program to follow has given hope and stability to those who wish to explore the possibility of changing from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation. This is a map of recovery that works if people work it. Motivation is always a key for success. With strong desire, proper support and effective treatment, people can and do change their sexual orientation.

As director of the International Healing Foundation (www.gaytostraight.org), we offer a five-step protocol for healing homosexuality:

  1. Read Coming Out Straight.
  2. Receive a personal evaluation/treatment plan (can be done over the phone).
  3. Participate in our Teleconferencing Classes (we offer three types: Family & Friends, Strugglers, and Therapists & Clergy).
  4. Attend our Love/Sex/Intimacy Healing Seminar (held quarterly).
  5. Experience a Family Healing Session.

Alan Medinger: Two of the most important things that need to happen to people coming out of homosexuality usually happen before they make contact with groups like ours. First, they have to make a decision - often a terribly difficult decision - to try and leave a lifestyle that for years has eased their pain and met their needs in the short term. I know from personal experience what a difficult decision that can be; to let go of the one thing that has enabled you to cope with life. The second thing is that by the time they call us, they have broken their isolation. They have reached out to another person and said, "Help me." Isolation, of course, is a deadly thing when you are trapped in any kind of addiction or lifestyle. So these two things have happened by the time they first talk with us. At this point quite likely they are already on the road to recovery.

Thereafter I see three elements in the healing process: understanding, healing and growth. Initially they come in that order, and then all three play a part in the recovery as needed. Understanding is almost always first. Here's a typical situation. A man comes to my office for the first time, a man who is maybe forty or forty-five years old, a man who knows nothing about the roots or causes of homosexuality. I explain some theories that we have learned from Elizabeth Moberly, Dr. Nicolosi or others, I will see the lights go on in his mind. He immediately connects with the theory. Then he may start to cry. It is such an enormous relief to finally have some answer to "why I am the way I am." With this insight, he immediately starts to sense that there is hope. "Now I know what's wrong; maybe it can be fixed." Understanding starts to open up all sorts of doors for him. Giving him such understanding and hope is the first great job of the therapist or others who work in this field.

Then comes the second part, healing. "Now that I understand some of this, how do I get beyond it?" Almost everyone needs help at this point. We need healing agents. And those healing agents will be either the therapist, or God, or God's ministers, or most likely, a combination of all of the above. I believe that most of the significant breakthroughs are spiritual. But it is very often the therapist who, in helping to uncover the deeper problems, points to the spiritual solutions. The client sees that he needs to forgive someone. He may be helped to recognize his narcissism or envy, or other deeper sins that have been controlling his life, and he will see that he needs to turn from these things to become truly free.

The third stage is growth. He needs to take what understanding has made clear to him, and what healing has made possible, and start to live that out in his daily life. These men need to grow up. I agree with what others have said here, that men have to enter the world of men and live as men. These men need to get back on the path of growth towards manhood, a path that most of our men got off in early adolescence.

With the women, there is a need to embrace life as a woman in relationships with both men and women. We are never really going to get well until we are able to live as men and women in the world of men and women.

Martin Pressman: Yesterday, Rich mentioned his mission from New Warriors, and my mission from New Warriors is - To use my masculine power to help every man achieve his full potential. When I was looking at the JONAH list serve (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), their E-mail discussion group( jonah@shamash.org), I noticed that these men are really looking for support and I said to Arthur, "Why don't we have a support group?" Arthur said "GREAT!" And I said "Well if we're going to have a support group, we're also going to need to do something to develop men's sense of their masculinity." Arthur said "GREAT!" So that's how the JONAH support group got started.

I'd like to read a part of the JONAH support group protocol: "The purpose of the group is to offer both emotional support and assistance in the development of our inherent masculinity in order to help heal the feelings of shame, isolation, powerlessness and guilt so that we can be free to become the men that we were created to be." Our support group has had three meetings so far. The men are courageous in that they are becoming the men they want to be so they can lead the lives they want to lead. The first part of the group is discussion, and for the second part the men decided they wanted to learn how to play basketball. We have mentors, some young rabbis, who are available to help them with the sports.

Arthur Goldberg: One of the questions that each of you have referenced in different ways is whether there is a dichotomy or whether there is complimentarity between faith-based therapy and secular therapy? I'd like to get each of your views as to which is more important. Is there is a conflict or is there a compatibility? How do you distinguish secular therapy from faith-based therapy? Please explain what you perceive as the differences and the similarities.

Alan Medinger: I don't see a dichotomy at all. Probably half of the people who go through our ministry are also receiving professional therapy. I think that the primary role of the therapist is to uncover the problems. But most of the solutions are spiritual. Knowing who we are in God's view, coming to accept that we are who God says we are, taking responsibility for our own lives; these are spiritual things.

Richard Cohen: In my practice as a psychotherapist, I encourage each individual to develop his or her own sense of spirituality and relationship with God. However, I never impose my beliefs on the client. Many come into therapy with "religious" or "spiritual" wounding from intolerance and homophobia. It is important to address these issues and help bring healing to those areas.

Ben Newman: I have to say my perspective is completely different from Alan's. I found that my problems were not predominantly spiritual. In fact, spiritually, I was pretty mature, pretty developed, so it was very comfortable and familiar for me to put all my energies into spiritual healing and ignore the emotional work and relationship work with other men where I was so damaged. It was like putting a cast on my arm when I had the flu. I was treating the wrong problem.

Having said that, I still experienced my change at a deeply spiritual level, because I find any kind of emotional growth to be spiritual. But also, I changed the way I approached spirituality. Instead of asking, "God please change me," or "you do it for me," it became, "God, lead me to the next step, the next healing relationship. Show me the next piece of work I have to do." When I approached it this way, with an open heart, I felt God opening doors for me and leading me down new paths that previously seemed closed to me.

Arthur Goldberg: I'd like to ask each of you to explain your views on the question of directive vs. non-directive therapy and the benefits and detriments of them.

Ben Newman: I went into therapy and said, first thing, what's the path out of this? I came from a Twelve Step background and I wanted to have the steps laid out for me. I was frustrated that my therapist didn't seem to want to lay out the steps for me at that early stage, so after a couple of sessions and a lot of reading, I laid out six or seven steps myself and took them into a session and said: “ Here, I think this is my path out of this for me. What do you think?”

I mentioned earlier the striking similarities I see in so many stories of same-sex attracted men - so much so that I think therapy could be expedited in many cases if the therapist presented the typical developmental model and said, “Let's look at where you fit into this and where you don't.” You can be pretty sure there are going to be serious father-rejection issues, mother issues, peer-rejection issues and self-esteem or gender-esteem issues. Let's just jump in and look at some of those possibilities and not spend a whole lot of time on diagnosis. That's my bias because I'm the type of person who wants to know where I'm headed in order to have some faith in the process. Also,there were times I wanted to know what the therapist was trying to get at, what process he was using and where he was hoping it would lead, in order for me to let go of my inhibitions and trust the process.

Richard Cohen - Here is a formula I have found that works in helping people heal from sexual brokenness: ESPn (ESP to the "n" degree).

  • E = Encouragement: I needed people in my life to say, "I believe in you." These four words meant so much to me when I felt like quitting, when the pain was just too much to bear. "I believe in you" gave me the strength and courage to go on.
  • S = Support: Everyone needs a network of support, or support network to "hold" them during the process of healing. What was born out of broken relationships must be healed in healthy relationships. The support network may consist of, but not be limited to, family & friends, support groups, therapy, mentoring, exercise, prayer, meditation, and friendships.
  • P = Plan: Having a road map of recovery gives hope to those seeking healing from homosexuality. If you're going to build a house, you need a plan. If you want to accomplish a goal, you need a plan. Having a four-stage model of recovery for healing homosexuality offers light and hope and purpose and direction.
  • "nth" degree 'Never Give Up! Whether you feel good or whether you feel bad, just keep going, never give up. There are many times on the journey when you want to quit. Keep going. No matter what, never give up. I made it and I've helped many others accomplish their dreams.

Alan Medinger: Given a choice, we will always opt for a directive therapist. Most of our men did not receive what a father offers - direction, advice, limits, discipline -and there is a great hunger for these things, especially in the early stages of healing. Our men respond well to this. They may resist it at first, but deep inside they know they need it. A therapist can provide a father's role in the early stages of recovery. I think it is very important of have a directive therapist.

Martin Pressman: In his book on reparative therapy, Dr. Nicolosi uses a phrase, "kitchen-window boy." I was the classic kitchen-window boy. I stayed at home reading by myself, meanwhile the other boys were outside playing basketball and having a good time. I'd see them from the window and I yearned to be outside with them. I longed to be like them. I felt so inadequate and inferior to these other boys that I defensively detached from them, to use another phrase of Dr. Nicolosi's. Directive therapy is the way you undo that. Doing the things that men do.

One of the things I've learned in doing this work is something about fear. My mother always represented safety and comfort - that's the obstacle to overcome in doing this work. I always was driven by fear, yet there's two things about fear - there's the fear and then there's bringing the fear with you, overcoming it, and experiencing the exhilaration of overcoming it. So there's nothing wrong about being afraid. Doing this work does bring up fear in men. But what I think they need to hear is the fact that you can do it if you want to do it, if it means enough to you. Bring your fear with you and there will be people to help you along the way. My experience has been that the work I've done outside the therapists' office is just as important, if not more important, than what I've done in therapy.

Arthur Goldberg: Do you have practical suggestions that can help a man enhance his gender identity?

Ben Newman: Getting a mentor was huge for me. Having a straight man that could mentor me through the process and be kind of a surrogate father to me was very healing. I also had to do some work around overcoming my sports-phobia, because I so associated athletics with masculinity. Getting a personal basketball coach was a big help. Another was finding healthy male touch, which I found primarily through my New Warriors group - straight men, primarily, who are very open with hugs and affection. I recommend New Warriors to most men, but not all. Certainly if they are ready to face their fears and do some courageous inner work, I recommend it very highly.

Richard Cohen: Martin, Rich and I have all gone through the New Warrior Training Adventure weekend. I have sent several dozen clients through the program as well. (It's important to realize that the New Warrior Network is value "neutral" when it comes to homosexuality - they support an individual's person goal, whether it's to act upon the desires or not.) For women, there is a sister group: Women Within. Many religious institutions offer same-gender support groups that are very helpful to heal gender relations and gender identity.

Sports mentoring can be very helpful. I have had several men from my church mentor some of my clients. It was extremely healing for them to receive personal coaching, having a man take the time to show them the ropes and develop skills. Mentoring is a very important part of recovery. Men need to heal with men. Women need to heal with women. If the same-sex parent is unwilling, incapable or unavailable, then it is critical for mentors to "stand in the gap" and offer a hand of support for those wishing to heal out of homosexuality. I am writing a mentoring manual, however, there are suggestions in Coming Out Straight, describing the roles and responsibilities for the mentor and adult-child.

Bodywork, a therapy that centers on healing wounds within the body, is also extremely helpful. The work of Alexander Lowen (Bioenergetics), John Pierrakos (Core Energetics) and Ilana Rubenfeld (Synergy Method) help individuals access core wounds found in the body and heal more expeditiously. Talk therapy alone will not reach the deeper recesses of our hearts.

Healing touch is also an integral part of recovery. Touch deprivation, or inappropriate touch, goes in tandem with homosexuality. Same-sex attractions are always a symptom of insufficient bonding with the same-sex parent and same-sex peers. Receiving healthy and healing touch in recovery imbues a man with a sense of self and gender awareness. Setting appropriate and healthy boundaries is important in receiving healthy touch from other men.

Alan Medinger: To address just one item, I think that in today's culture, where there is so much androgynous belief, so much feminization, and so much general confusion about what it means to be a man or woman, we need to gain a far deeper understanding of the masculine and the feminine and of the differences that God created in men and women.

In doing research for my book, Growth Into Manhood: Resuming the Journey, I came across a wonderful book with the delightful title, Why Eve Doesn't Have an Adam's Apple (Carol Ann Rinzler, Facts on File, 1996). It is an encyclopedia of the differences between men and women, most of them having nothing to do with reproduction. We were created differently in all parts of our bodies, even in how our brains function.

Understanding these differences can guide us in knowing how we should live. Of course, there is overlap-every man has the feminine in him, and every woman the masculine-but God intends that men major in the masculine and women in the feminine. As we come to see the particular roles and responsibilities of men and women, we can overcome the confusion that is so rampant in our society, and we will start to see the course that we need to follow to find fulfillment as men or women.

Martin Pressman: In terms of a practical solution, one of the things that my therapist encouraged me to do is listen to what my body is telling me. I always bottled up my emotions. My mother always kept everything inside of her, and so did I. My therapist would ask me: "How do you feel about that?" "Where do you feel that in your body?" And I would say > "I don't know." And he would say, "Well, it's there. You're a human being, you feel something, you're alive." And he was right. By listening to my body, I can now automatically express what I'm feeling. If I'm angry, I feel it in my stomach. If I feel afraid, I also feel it in my stomach. If I feel love, I feel it in my heart. My therapist explained to me the meaning of the phrase "masculine emotion" - men have emotions, and there's nothing wrong with showing your emotion.

Arthur Goldberg: At this point, because our time is getting short, I would like to ask the audience if they have any questions for the panel.

Question: What advice can you provide to the clergy about how to initially engage homosexual people in our congregation or community about a grace-filled dialogue that is not homophobic?

Alan Medinger: I think that the overall problem in the church has been its failure to deal with any sexual issues at all, except as a social or political problem. People live in our churches for years and years in silence and shame due to sexual problems. If pastors and the church will talk more openly about sexual struggles, people will come forward seeking help with both homosexual and heterosexual problems.

Richard Cohen: If the pastor or rabbi speaks about it, then doors open. It's very important for the leader of a religious group to say the word "homosexual" and "we love you" in the same breath. If you read the Old and New Testaments, the Scriptures are against behaviors, not people. Separate the individual from his behavior. There has been much too much judgment and misunderstanding when it comes to homosexuality. Speak the truth in love. Allow someone to share his personal testimony about coming out of homosexuality. Put a face to the story. Teach the congregation to love those who experience same-sex attractions, whether they wish to change or not. Love is the medicine that heals all pain. Men embrace men. Women embrace women. It's a Same-Sex Attachment Disorder. The church needs to step up to the plate and be part of the solution.

Ben Newman: People like me listen for signals of empathy or condemnation to gauge whether a person is safe to reveal ourselves to. I once mentioned something about gays to an elder in my church and he responded with an "ugh." That told me everything I needed to know, and I knew I would never open up to him.

Arthur Goldberg: Unfortunately, I think that the Bible, as its been interpreted by a number of theologians, is very misleading. The Biblical phrase in Lev. 18:22, "a man shall not lie with another man, it is an abomination" (and parenthetically, the gender distinction mandate in Deut. 22:5 which likewise uses the word abomination in speaking to the external representation of gender distinctiveness), sets forth a very judgmental approach to homosexuality without addressing the healing prospect.

In actuality, however, the word, "abomination" is a very misleading interpretation of the Hebrew word "To'eivah" found in both Bible sections to which I referred. In fact, the Talmud, which interprets the Torah, is very clear. In Nedarim 51a of the Babylonian Talmud, there is a specific interpretation of this biblical verse which states that the Hebrew word is an acronym for a larger Hebrew phrase, "to'eh attah bah," which means - you have been led astray by this cohabitation, or because of this cohabitation. The origin comes from the Hebrew word "ta'os" or error. This concept, that homosexuality is mistaken conduct conveys an entirely different interpretation. The Talmud is clear that, in effect, God said - okay, it's an error - but an error is obviously subject to correction, and subject to correction means change is possible, probable, and, in fact, mandated by the Jewish concept of "teshuva." Teshuva is often mistranslated as repentance, when a more accurate translation is change. God, therefore, mandates change; reparative or gender-affirming therapy can create the framework for this change, so that those with a homosexual condition can change their behavior and identity as well as their arousals and fantasies. The entire concept and meaning of To'eivah, and its ramifications, has unfortunately been totally misunderstood by the churches and synagogues.

As a non-profit organization, JONAH strives to help others through the generosity of its supporters, officers and members.